Making the Case For and Against Popular Browns Head Coach Candidates

Josh McDaniels, Kevin Stefanski, Robert Saleh, Greg Roman, Eric Bienemy, Brian Daboll and even Jim Schwartz have come up in this seemingly never-ending discussion over who the Browns’ next head coach will be.

All seven of these men have (varying) merit that might make them the coach to finally take the Browns over the hump, which their current player personnel can no doubt achieve. That said, which one of them would be the ‘optimal’ candidate? Which one should you support the most? Are there any of them who might not be the best decision?

Let us evaluate the pros and cons of each coach, in no particular order of theoretical viability:

1. Josh McDaniels

There have been more back-n-forths concerning Josh McDaniels and this head coaching vacancy than a professional tennis match. Seriously, one day he’s the favorite to get the job, the next he supposedly has ‘zero chance’ of getting it? And of course, there’s that stupid 2014 tweet floating around that some fans have been too stupid to actually read the date on, which has been its own internet forest fire of sorts.

Putting that aside, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of hiring McDaniels:

Pros

  • McDaniels has been in the league for a very long time
  • In that time, he has engineered some of the greatest offenses, literally ever
  • McDaniels also has head coaching experience, which is key for a team like the Browns
  • He is a talented play-caller and knows offenses well, which would benefit Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb a lot.

Cons

  • McDaniels had somewhat of an ineffective playcalling season with the Patriots this year
  • McDaniels was not a very effective head coach with Denver, leading the team to a mere 11-17 record (albeit with a lot less talent than the Browns have)
  • McDaniels might not have a particularly great eye for talent- he did sway the Broncos to draft Tim Tebow in the first round, after all.

Writer opinion- McDaniels is overall the strongest candidate left for the Browns to choose from. His cons can be argued down very easily. Playcalling was very difficult to effectively do for the Patriots, considering the team’s gaping lack of talent beyond Tom Brady, which wasn’t helped by a tremendous down year for Julian Edelman. McDaniels’ potential issues identifying talent are also: A). Not too important, the Browns have a lot of talent as-is and B). Potentially overrated, since Tim Tebow wasn’t exactly drafted yesterday and McDaniels hasn’t made any notable mistakes like ever since. For these reasons, the Browns would be best suited to hire McDaniels.

2. Kevin Stefanski

Similarly to McDaniels, Stefanski has had a very up and down season. However, the ‘up’ likely hit its peak for the moment in his team’s recent 26-20 win in New Orleans during the NFC Wildcard game. Stefanski has been right in the thick of things, helping to engineer Minnesota’s second-half resurgence. It is largely because of this that the Vikings have both proceeded to the NFC Divisional game and actually have a very reasonable chance to upset the 49ers this weekend.

Having a look at his pros and cons:

Pros

  • With this second-half resurgence, Stefanski has been proven to know how to make important adjustments- key for a team leader and play-caller
  • He has worked his way up the Vikings’ coach totem pole, sticking with the team since 2006 in an assistant capacity of some kind.
  • The Vikings’ offense is very similar to the Browns, and since he has proven to be good at getting the most out of it, he would likely succeed operating with the team’s offense

Cons

  • Stefanski may be getting a bit too much credit for the offense’s resurgent second half. Freddie Kitchens can certainly relate…
  • While Stefanski has a long tenure with the Vikings, he has only served as the team’s full-time play-caller and offensive coordinator for one season.

Writer opinion- Stefanski would make for an excellent, close second best candidate for the Browns’ head coach vacancy. A lot of his success in Minnesota comes with a team that has very similar offensive personnel to that of the Browns, which is no doubt appealing. Unlike Josh McDaniels, however, Stefanski only has experience as an assistant, and not a whole lot as a coordinator, which may not be ideal for a team that has been embedded in a losing culture for so long. This does not serve to undermine Stefanski’s viability, but rather portrays the tiebreaker going in McDaniels’ favor; Stefanski is a strong candidate and should be regarded as such.

3. Robert Saleh

A fairly unheard of, dark horse candidate, Robert Saleh seems to have made a very strong impression with the Browns during his interview. His 49ers defense has also been incredibly impressive and consistent this season and has been crucial in allowing the 49ers to capture the NFC’s top seed.

Let’s have a look at Saleh’s pros and cons:

Pros

  • Saleh has put in a couple of fairly strong seasons as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator
  • Saleh has plenty of experience and is still quite young for what would be a head coach at the age of 40
  • The second ‘pro’ also means Saleh has proven to be adept at making the most of his time in the NFL, which would aid him in learning how to become a head coach

Cons

  • Saleh is a defensive-minded coach; while this isn’t inherently a bad thing, most of the Browns’ talent is on the offensive side of the ball
  • As he has never been a head coach before, Saleh will take on the unfamiliar task of assembling a staff, top-to-bottom. Unlike the aforementioned McDaniels and Stefanski, Saleh would need someone to be a play-caller, which could go poorly if he doesn’t get it right

Writer opinion- Saleh has enough pros to be worth considering. However, the Browns are the last vacancy left in the league, so they don’t need to settle. Simply put, Saleh is a noticeable notch downward from McDaniels and Stefanski- his cons have a very real chance to put the team in a bind and ruining their breadth of young talent, while the cons of McDaniels and Stefanski are comparatively minor. Saleh is a viable candidate but should be ultimately passed on.

4. Greg Roman

A bit of an oddball candidate, Greg Roman has been getting quite a bit of attention. Not just as a potential new head coach, but in his work with the Ravens’ offense this season. Lamar Jackson has gone from a middle of the pack guy to a runaway MVP candidate under Roman’s tutelage this season, and because of the Ravens’ dynamic offense, the team is sitting pretty at 14-2 and the AFC’s top seed.

So, let’s have a look at his pros and cons:

Pros

  • Roman has been in the NFL since 1995 (with a brief college stint from 2008-2010), giving him more experience than any other candidate
  • Roman has proven to run an offense effectively in the AFC North
  • Roman is an offensively-minded head coach, which the Browns should be prioritizing
  • Hiring Roman away from the Ravens would deprive a division rival of a key reason behind their offense’s resurgence

Cons

  • As an offensive coordinator, Roman has only found notable success with mobile quarterbacks (49ers with Colin Kaepernick, Ravens with Lamar Jackson) and Baker Mayfield doesn’t fit that mold
  • The first con effectively undermines the second pro, as his ability to run an offense without such a quarterback has produced mediocre results
  • Additionally, the first con would create a new challenge for Roman and Baker Mayfield; the former either has to mold his offense around an unfamiliar quarterback, or the latter must adjust his gameplay around yet another differently-minded coach. This hurdle could be avoided hiring just about any other candidate

Writer opinion- Greg Roman is one of two candidates which is flat out unviable to take over the reins in Cleveland. With a very talent-heavy Browns team and a crucial third season for Baker Mayfield coming up, making major adjustments to the offense with an ultimately unproven product would be flat out ridiculous. There just isn’t any sort of justification to hire Greg Roman as the team’s head coach.

5. Eric Bienemy

Eric Bienemy has emerged as somewhat of a dark horse candidate for this position as well. Bienemy’s work with the offense has been somewhat overshadowed by the ascension to prominence of the extremely talented Patrick Maholmes and the ridiculously athletic Tyreke Hill, though the offense as a whole has been clicking quite well for the past two seasons.

Let’s have a look at the good and bad for Bienemy:

Pros-

  • Bienemy stands out as being a former player, making him stand out as the only former player to be a head coach candidate this year
  • Overall, Bienemy has been in football since 1991, giving him nearly 30 years of experience
  • Bienemy has found success in numerous organizations as a running backs coach, which would benefit the Browns’ deadly tandem of Nick Chubb and (if he resigns with the team) Kareem Hunt

Cons- 

  • As an offensive coordinator, Bienemy’s efforts have been somewhat unexciting when Patrick Maholmes hasn’t been on the field.
  • The first con is supplemented by the fact that the Chiefs have jaw-dropping talent on offense, which may somewhat undermine how much his efforts have actually contributed to the unit being as strong as it is
  • Bienemy’s area of expertise is with running backs, and not quarterbacks. This isn’t inherently a terrible thing, as highlighted by the third pro, but it does mean he lacks experience managing quarterbacks; this could be hit-or-miss with Baker Mayfield

Writer opinion- Like Robert Saleh, Bienemy isn’t necessarily a bad candidate- he simply isn’t by any means ideal and falls short of Josh McDaniels and Kevin Stefanski. Being a former player helps, and would give some credence to him being a good locker room presence and “leader of men” this team seems to need so much. However, his general inexperience in crucial areas and lack of a proven product are concerning, and stop him from being as strong a choice as Josh McDaniels or Kevin Stefanski.

6. Brian Daboll

Brian Daboll has also been a strange candidate for the Browns’ job. Josh Allen did have a stronger season under Daboll, which helped the Bills to reach the playoffs, which does give him some degree of merit.

Let’s have a closer look at making Daboll’s case, to and against:

Pros-

  • Literally, why?
  • See pro #1

Cons-

  • You may not remember this, but Brian Daboll was actually an offensive coordinator in Cleveland ten years ago. The result? Dead last in total offense in 2009, and only a minor jump to 29th in 2010. Sure, that was ten years ago, but he has failed to produce anything meaningful in the NFL over the course of the last ten seasons.
  • In 2013, with the Kansas City Chiefs, he was again the engineer of the NFL’s 32nd ranked offense.
  • He has never accomplished anything when he was handed the task of holding down so much as a significant assistant’s role in the NFL. In fact, he has flat out sucked just about everywhere he’s gone. Even though it might seem like he had a good season this year as the offensive coordinator with the Bills, the team’s offense was an underwhelming 23rd in the league in total offense
  • Again, literally why?!?!

Writer opinion- LITERALLY, WHY?!?! If they do this, Browns fans should converge to burn First Energy Stadium to the ground. It’s not like our team would achieve much in actually making use of the field anyway if Daboll was tabbed as the next head coach.

7. Jim Schwartz

Recently receiving a surprise interview from the Browns, Schwartz is the last serious candidate for the team’s vacancy.

Let’s have a look at his pros and cons:

Pros-

  • Schwartz is a very strict, no-nonsense head coach, which this team sure could use.
  • Schwartz’s defenses have consistently been amongst the best in the league during his time, having tremendous success as the Titans’ defensive coordinator from 2001-2008, as well as the Bills (2014) and since 2016, the Eagles.
  • Schwartz has been in football since 1989, making him the most overall experienced candidate
  • Schwartz was actually an assistant in Cleveland when Bill Belichick, of all people, was the team’s head coach. Schwartz spent 1993-1995 as the team’s personnel scout
  • Unlike competitor Robert Saleh, Schwartz is a defensive-minded guy who has experience putting together a staff and finding a play-caller to cover up for his shortcoming in that regard

Cons-

  • Schwartz has been utterly ineffective as a head coach, posting a dismal 29-51 record in five seasons with the Lions
  • Like Robert Saleh, being a defensive-minded guy hinders his synergy with the team’s strong offense, though it does mean he’ll be likely to get a lot out of talented guys such as Myles Garrett and Christian Kirksey

Writer opinion- Schwartz is not as bad a candidate as it may initially seem. His merit as a strict, disciplined coach poses a very intriguing niche with a young Browns team which had tremendous issues with discipline last year. Schwartz has also had an extremely good history at engineering defenses, which would bode well given the talent Cleveland has on that side of the ball. Overall, Schwartz is probably the third best candidate for the job behind Josh McDaniels and Kevin Stefanski. It’s a shame he won’t take a defensive coordinator job with the team.

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